Blog: 2011-01

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Verizon Wireless, Droids, Penny-Pinching

Verizon Wireless won't let you penny-pinch if you have a Droid.

Most people I know with modern smartphones pay $1,000 or more per year, between plans and amortized cost of the phone over its typical lifetime. That's 5x to 10x what I can stomach for my own smartphone use.

Most months, I have only a few brief phone calls on my four-year-old Nokia smartphone, I usually use WiFi for data, and I avoid text-messaging (which is a ridiculously overpriced cash cow). So I have a pay-as-you-go prepaid daily deal from AT&T, for which I pay $1 each day I have calls, plus 10 cents or so per minute, no contract. (Which also means that incoming phone calls tend to cost me $1.10, which is annoying when it's an unimportant robocall from some business.) AT&T makes a tidy profit on the few minutes of airtime I actually use, especially considering that my refill minutes tend to expire, and I get enough value for my money.

I wanted to move from the Nokia to an Android phone, and I figured I'd move to Verizon at the same time. So I bought a used Verizon-locked Droid, intending to get Verizon's prepaid daily plan that's comparable to my AT&T one.

Unfortunately, once Verizon looks up your phone's MEID and realizes that it's a Droid, they decide that they can't sell you a prepaid daily plan -- the best they can do is a prepaid monthly voice plan, plus a data plan. First I tried the Verizon Wireless Web site, then I spoke with three people, and the last one checked with a supervisor. I had explained that I understand why they have those restrictions when they're providing a heavily-subsidized Droid phone, but that I was providing the phone in this case. They said apologetically that their system would not let them do it.

One possible loophole I did not try: order daily prepaid service with a subsidized $20 phone package (with $10 airtime credit), and then try to activate the Droid on it.

My new plan is to buy a GSM Android phone and move my existing AT&T SIM card to it. I think that is likely to work easily.

If you're looking for a GSM Android phone for use in the US, be careful of the Verizon "global" Droids, which are marketed as working on both Verizon's network and GSM ones. Reportedly, Verizon has disabled some of the GSM bands specifically so that the phone cannot be used with US GSM carriers. And reportedly that can't be remedied simply, like unlocking a carrier lock. No penny-pinching with the Droid 2 Global or Droid Pro for you.

FAA Flight Manuals

 [cover of FAA Instrument Flying Handbook] Someone was looking for a bunch of private pilot manuals, which reminded me to mention that various FAA flight-related manuals are available for free in PDF format from

For example, Instrument Flying Handbook.

I could've saved a lot of money and shelf space, had I known about these free PDFs.

Holiday Review

The best Christmas gifts are those that come from MasterCard Santa. He always seems to know exactly what you want, and has excellent yet sensible taste.

  • Target flannel sheets. These are good quality, lasting much longer than their seasonal jersey-knit ones. A full-size set is normally only $20, and is frequently on sale for $14-$17. They're also seasonal, and I had to wait months for them to show up in my store.

  • Dirt Devil Dynamite Plus vacuum cleaner with HEPA filter. This works pretty well, has some great industrial design, decent build quality, works on hardwood floors, and only $50 shipped from Amazon. Good for Cambridge apartments with hardwood floors. I was able to sell my old HEPA commercial-grade hand-vac for $40, and the $10 net cost was so worth it, as I cleaned up a sweater's worth of fuzz from the two long-haired cats that were visiting. Careful when shopping, since there's a Dirt Devil model that looks almost identical, at almost the same price, but which has lousy ratings, compared to the good ratings of this model.

  • Henckels Twin Four Star II 4-inch Serrated Paring Knife. This is my new do-almost-everything cooking knife, since I think a kitchen really only needs one to three knives. This knife replaces a particular knife from a $20 "never needs sharpening" block set that I bought about 18 years ago. I needed the serrations on this new knife, for cutting tomatoes hand-held, and for cutting bread, but I also wanted it to function as a parer. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a good-quality serrated paring knife from a less-expensive manufacturer or product series. Fortunately, I got a good deal on this one. The bling on the end of the Four Star II pieces is slightly cheesey, but I couldn't find this piece in the original Four Star series. Finding a great deal on a matching Four Star II 8-inch chef's knife (for splitting butternut squash and literally chopping vegetables), is a later exercise, since even MasterCard Santa is sure not gonna pay retail on that.

  • ASUS VE247 22-inch LED-backlit 1080p LCD monitor. Moving the PS3 to 16:9 and HDMI has been glorious. And it's a lot cheaper than a TV of the same video specifications. Will double as a computer monitor, when I need to work on a server or a broken laptop.

I don't do Amazon affiliate links. Just wanted to recommend a few products I'm happy with.

Scribble Emacs Mode 0.3

New version of Racket Scribble Emacs Mode adds completion of Scribble functions, special syntax, and keywords.

To install or upgrade, if you're feeling reckless, evaluate:

(require (planet neil/scribble-emacs:1:2/install-in-my-emacs))

Racket Scribble Emacs Mode 0.1

 [screenshot of a Scribble document in Emacs with some fontifying, Imenu, and ElDoc] A couple people expressed interest in Racket Scribble Emacs Mode, so I've done an early release.

I find it useful already, though I intend to do some more work on it as I get time.

Racket Scribble Emacs Mode In Pipeline

 [screenshot of a Scribble document in Emacs with some fontifying, Imenu, and ElDoc] Last night I starting hacking up (in multiple senses of the term) an Emacs mode for Racket Scribble (screenshot). I might be writing a book in my spare moments, and one can't write without an Emacs mode.

I plan to release the Emacs mode shortly, probably through PLaneT. I don't have much time available to spend on this, but please feel free to send me feature requests.

Racket/Scheme numspell 0.3

New version of numspell Racket/Scheme package does not have annoying debugging messages.

Earlier to... 2010-12

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